Along the banks of the Minnesota River in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, two units covering 2,800 acres offer over 11 miles of unpaved singletrack and doubletrack trail of varying difficulty.
The 400-acre Bloomington Ferry Unit offers flat and winding trails through floodplain forest and wetlands. The 2,400-acre Long Meadow Lake Unit offers more undulating terrain and vertical gain and loss. A roughly one-mile service road connects the two units.
During springtime, the trail is sandy, but becomes packed down throughout the summer and fall. During the height of summer, the forestation is at its most lush, but be prepared for tall grasses infested with stinging nettle and swarming mosquitoes. The combination of colors, cooler weather, packed trails, and absent mosquitoes make fall arguably the best season to run the River Bottoms, although fat-tire bikers help pack the trail down extremely well in the winter. Just be mindful of bikers year round and remember to yield.
What Makes It Great
From the parking lot, the River Valley Trail plunges into mature woods found in the floodplain forest. Within minutes of running, the Minnesota River and/or Long Meadow Lake is in view and the trail meanders back and forth between woods and wetland.
Six miles east of the Bloomington Ferry trailhead sits 9 Mile Creek; you can (carefully) cross the improvised footbridge constructed from a large fallen tree, or use the rope-bound raft that sits there outside of winter months.
At several points in both units, there are opportunities to take separate but parallel singletrack detours from the main trail. This offers the opportunity to explore extra climbs as well as tighter, off-the-beaten-patch singletrack. Use caution traveling east in the Long Meadow Lake Unit, where an early trail split will take you on opposite sides of Long Meadow Lake. Turning right offers flatter trails along the lake’s south, while the more challenging singletrack sits to the left/north. You cannot get back to the Cedar lot from the lake’s south side, which will instead dump you across the (closed) Old Cedar bridge. If you are starting and finishing from the Cedar lot, remember to turn left at this juncture.
Who is Going to Love It
Runners looking for a trail that offers both relaxed and challenging runs will enjoy the serene, scenic tracks tucked into the Minnesota River Valley mere miles from both downtowns and minutes from the airport.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The trails are open year-round, but flooding is common in the spring and early summer, so be sure to check the website for trail conditions.
There are three main access points to the River Bottoms trail. On the west, the Bloomington Ferry trailhead is just off Highway 169 at W. Old Shakopee Road. Run east from here for flat, winding trails.
From the east, the Cedar trailhead to the Long Meadow Lake Unit sits near the old Cedar Avenue Bridge, just off Highway 77 at E. Old Shakopee Road. From here, run west for undulating singletrack, or go east under Cedar Avenue for the less-challenging but still scenic Bass Pond trails.
To start between units, take Lyndale Ave. to its southern terminus from I-35W at W. 106th St. Run east for the Long Meadow Lake unit; for the Bloomington Ferry Unit, run west on the service road for just over a mile until it transitions to doubletrack.